UK mackerel war rages on

Published on
January 8, 2013

In early December, the European Parliament approved new rules empowering the European Commission to ban European Union imports of overfished mackerel.

“Bans should discourage massive overfishing of mackerel by Iceland and the Faroe Islands,” according to a statement from Parliament.

“While the regulation may be used against any third countries, the situation in the North East Atlantic is of immediate concern to all of us. Iceland has unilaterally increased its mackerel catch from 363 tons in 2005 to 147,000 tons in 2012. The Faroes’ quota for mackerel has soared from 27,830 tons in 2009 to 149,000 tons in 2012,” said Rapporteur Pat the Cope Gallagher (ALDE, IE).

While the Parliament’s vote opens the way to trade sanctions against countries that allow unsustainable fishing, the EU has not said what type of sanctions will be imposed and the U.K. fishing industry is split on the sanctions, which will impact imports of mackerel and other whitefish.

“We rely quite heavily on Icelandic seafood for the sustainability of our processing businesses. We think it is unfair that sanctions may be imposed that jeopardize jobs,” said Steve Norton, chief executive of the Grimsby Fish Merchants Association.

The U.K. imports around GBP 270 million (USD 433 million, EUR 331 million) worth of total fresh and frozen seafood from Iceland annually, Norton noted. Many U.K. retailers use Icelandic whitefish in their seafood products, “so it wouldn’t be easy to replace,” Norton added.

Scottish fishermen and seafood processors, meanwhile, support EU sanctions because the amount of mackerel they can catch could be slashed significantly if Iceland and the Faroe Islands set high mackerel quotas for themselves. Scotland landed GBP 164 million (USD 263 million, EUR 201 million) of mackerel — its most valuable fishery — in 2011.

“The truth behind Iceland’s sustainability credentials has been that it has increased its mackerel catch since 2005 from 363 tons per year to 145,000 tons — a 40,000 percent increase and totally out of line with scientific advice. Iceland says it is seeking a 15 percent share of the overall north-east Atlantic mackerel catch, but for the last three years it has been taking an allocation of 24 percent,” said Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association.

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